Louis Coatalen: Engineering Impresario of Humber, Sunbeam, Talbot and Darracq


Oliver Heal


Fabled automobile designer Louis Coatalen emerges from this new biographical portrait as a man of French charm and wit—but also as one determined to obtain success by any means necessary. In Louis Coatalen: Engineering Impresario of Humber, Sunbeam, Talbot, Darracq, readers witness Coatalen’s perseverance and certain lack of scruples, as well as his ability to recognize a good idea and recruit talented individuals to aid in his visions. These characteristics, combined with undeniable leadership skills, have made him a major figure in British motoring history.

Historian Oliver Heal provides new research into Coatalen’s family and his ties across the automobile design world. He shows Coatalen’s motor racing successes, as well as his failures: his birth in Brittany, his training as an engineer in France, his rise in the British motor industry, and his accomplishments at Humber and Sunbeam, important pre-World War I carmakers. Heal also tells Coatalen’s personal racing story about how his teams were the first British car to win a Grand Prix, later breaking the World Land Speed Records on five occasions. Eventually returning to France, Coatalen helped build up Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Company and devoted much time and money to developing a powerful, though ultimately unsuccessful, diesel airplane engine. Coatalen’s complicated private life—involving four wives, drug addiction, and questionable investments—are also examined for the first time. Accompanied by 250 illustrations, including many previously unpublished photographs, this new biography provides a roaring picture of a British car-making legend.